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Richard Rijnvos Matthijs Vermeulen Award Acceptance Speech

Richard Rijnvos accepting the Matthijs Vermeulen Award, 22 June 2011

Last night, Richard Rijnvos was awarded the Matthijs Vermeulen Award, a biennial prize for a Dutch composer considered to have ‘composed an important piece in the field of contemporary music’. As you can hear below, his acceptance speech was a fiery affair, attacking the current Dutch government’s policy of swingeing cuts to arts and music funding in the country. For non-Dutch speakers I have translated the text of his speech below. (You can find the original as a PDF here.)

While you’re here, the Muziek Centrum Nederland, which I think is probably the best music information centre in the world, faces 100% cuts to its government funding. They are running a petition asking for support against the cuts that I would urge you to sign.

Acceptance Speech Richard Rijnvos

Upon receipt of the Matthijs Vermeulen Prize, awarded during Toonzetters on 22 June 2011 in the Muziekgebouw aan ’t IJ.

The organisers have politely asked me not to speak for longer than three minutes. I’ll just start my stopwatch. (Starts stopwatch) So!

It is — I think — fairly obvious when I say that I am delighted to receive the Matthijs Vermeulen Prize. It is — I think — fairly obvious when I say that I am delighted to receive the Matthijs Vermeulen Prize for the the second time.

Some of you will know that for a while now I have been living and working in Durham; Durham, a small picturesque town in the shadow of Newcastle in the North of England.

We know England as the country of good manners, as the country where traditions are held in high regard, and where nationalism is not a dirty word. I usually keep my distance from any kind of sentimental chauvinism, but in light of the disastrous decisions regarding art and culture policy of the current [Dutch] government, I will gladly make an exception here:

I am proud of this award. I am proud of every note that sounds in Die Kammersängerin. I am proud of Marije van Stralen and the Ives Ensemble who bring my song cycle to life with as much enthusiasm as ultra professional precision. I am proud of the fact that I am an artist.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, you heard me right: I am proud of myself. Why? Because the government isn’t but should be. Don’t get me wrong: the arts are also having their funding cut in Great Britain, but not with the cynical, vindictive, hateful undertones that are currently employed by many a politician in the Hague, undoubtedly driven by the apparently ineradicable apathy that the Netherlands loves so much.

We, artists, have recently been successively portrayed as left-wing hobbyists, subsidy-spongers, and recently politicians can’t resist taking another shot, making artists look like subsidy-enslaved idiots. We are junkies. It seems as if the political lords and ladies have no interest in good manners. And no interest in cultural traditions. And also have no shred of cultural chauvinism.

I am proud of myself. Why? Because the government isn’t. But it should be.

Rita Verdonk once thought the time right for yet another populist party. T.O.N. Trots op Nederland [Proud of the Netherlands].

It is high time for a new political party: T.O.N.K. Trots op Nederlandse Kunstenaars [Proud of Dutch Artists].

(looks at stopwatch) My time is up. Thank you for your attention.

June Unfolding in Macclesfield

This Saturday sees the first performance of June Unfolding by the orchestra of King Edward Musical Society in Macclesfield as part of the Barnaby Festival marking the 750th anniversary of the Royal Charter of Macclesfield. It seems like only yesterday that I first met the orchestra, but months down the line, here we are and rehearsals have been going very well. Alongside my piece the programme includes Shostakovich’s Festive Overture, Beethoven Violin Concerto (performed by the orchestra’s leader, Melissa Court), the Apotheosis/Triumphal March from Berlioz’s Grand symphonie funèbre et triomphale, and A New Song’s Measure for choir and concert band by Irish composer Fergal Carroll.

You can find out more about June Unfolding on the Adopt a Composer blog. Many thanks go to the organisations that supported this commission — Sound and Music, PRS for Music Foundation and Making Music — but also to all the members of the orchestra, conductor Tony Houghton and KEMS chairman Tim Ward.

Listings: Barnaby Festival / Facebook / Songkick

Hear: …going back to the skies

At the start of last month, Trio Atem gave a wonderful performance of my …going back to the skies as part of the ‘Out Hear’ series at Kings Place. Here is a recording of the performance for all to hear. As always, thanks to Gavin, Nina and Alice!

Trio Atem rehearsing at Kings Place, London
Trio Atem re­hearsing at Kings Place, London

Composer Portrait: Donal Sarsfield

Donal Sarsfield recording

Recent recipient of the 1er Prix Luigi Russolo for his work Gallivanting (now retitled as The Suitcases Piece), Donal Sarsfield is an Irish composer currently studying for a PhD in electroacoustic music at the University of Manchester on an Irish Arts Council Elizabeth Maconchy Composition Fellowship. His recent tape music demonstrates poignancy and humour in equal measure, with attention to the detail of even the most ephemeral gesture. For the second of an occasional series of profiles of composers whose music I like (previously: Nina Whiteman), Donal kindly agreed to answer some questions about what makes him tick.


Chris Swithinbank: I realise that this is not a question that you probably consider every day, but let’s start at the beginning. What drew you to write music? Is it a vocation and if so, why?

Donal Sarsfield: I always listened to music in my teenage years. I learned to play the piano myself but was always a reluctant practiser; I much preferred improvising to learning pieces. It wasn’t until I went to college and attended composition classes that I got a feeling that I could try things out on paper, and so after a few elemental exercises I wrote my first piece when I was 20. I wouldn’t call composing a vocation.

CS: Having started out writing music for acoustic instruments and voices, you are now working on a PhD in Electroacoustic Composition. What was it about studio composition that you wanted to explore?

DS: After first working in the studio during my MA in 2004 I realised that I enjoyed working with sounds as much as I enjoyed working with notes and instruments. Having been to a respectable number of concerts involving tape or electroacoustic works over the years I felt that most of the pieces I heard, though technically polished, were lacking something personal. By personal I mean either a clearly autobiographical subject matter or the more stubbornly subtle, eccentric or esoteric side to life. That’s the area that I have set out to explore in my PhD; the subject of the personal through sound.

CS: How do you deal with the disembodied nature of tape music?

DS: The photographer Garry Winogrand often said that he photographed something to see what it looked liked photographed and I try and apply the same approach to recording sounds; I record something to hear what it sounds like recorded. Even though 99% of my sounds are derived from recorded sound I never consider the sounds I use as disembodied. I think the term presupposes the “disembodied” element in a lesser light and that seems an unnecessary weight on the work.

Pro Tools session: The Suitcases Piece 230 - 351

Pro Tools session: The Suitcases Piece

CS: How do you conceive of sound in your work?

DS: I usually have some starting point or concept which I try and realise through sound. This seed evolves through a period of broad preparatory research into areas which I feel might be useful; photography, painting, American 80’s television, and that then informs the practical considerations of constructing the piece: from how and where to record sound sources, how best to transform, organise and combine sounds, and most importantly, how to resolve and structure each sound/gesture within each piece. At the minute I can’t really offer a definition of resolution, it’s more an awareness that within the piece a sound must justify itself and, if removed, would weaken the equilibrium of the work.

CS: Moving from raw recorded sound to a finished piece can be a convoluted process. How do you go about it and what role does the source sound itself play in a piece’s concept?

DS: I always aim to make something not “factually impeccable but seamlessly persuasive”, which is a phrase from John Szarkowski, the man who’s writing I turn to most often when I’m stuck. The first three pieces of my [PhD] portfolio point to an ordinary sound in an imaginative, and hopefully somewhat intelligent, manner. I try and use the sound source as the subject of the piece, rather than just using the sound object as a means to create. Matisse said that “The object is not so interesting in itself. It’s the environment that creates the object.”

CS: In The Clapping Piece (2010) the main material is the sound of applause. There is a wonderful moment just after it ends where the audience anticipates its own applause, recognises that this will be in some way a continuation of the work itself and realises something of the ridiculousness of the concert ritual. Was that a conscious aim? Is a questioning of the concert situation an important part of your compositional approach?

DS: With The Clapping Piece there was an attempt to make an audience not applaud after the piece, but I failed in that respect. I think of that piece as a rather unassuming performance piece for concert hall. More than most pieces it rewards projection within the concert hall environment more than anywhere else (for example a radio broadcast, listening at home, or online streaming).

CS: What projects have you got in the pipeline at the moment?

DS: Thankfully the PhD will be my main project for the next 18 months and I am grateful for this time to make the work as strong as it can be. Outside the PhD I have been participating in the Jerwood Opera Writing Foundation at Aldeburgh and that course culminates in a short new piece with writer Alan McKendrick and director Ted Huffman in July.

CS: What excites you about being an artist today?

DS: Waiting to see what Martin Margiela will do next.

Sarsfield at the Clockarium, Brussels

Donal Sarsfield at the Clockarium, Brussels (Photo by Sam Salem)

Unfolding musical memory

‘So, it’s done! I finished the score of June Unfolding for the orchestra of King Edward Musical Society last week and the parts are being prepared for the first rehearsal on 3 May. I thought I would take a moment to put down some thoughts on the composition process and the ideas behind the piece, especially as I won’t be at the first two rehearsals and it might be nice for the players to find out a bit more.’

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